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How Jay Catlin reaches solutions without facing arguments Featured

7:01pm EDT November 30, 2011
How Jay Catlin reaches solutions without facing arguments

It happened so fast that no one really noticed how spread out things had gotten at AMS Fulfillment. The third-party fulfillment service company had grown from 80,000 square feet to 500,000 square feet in just three years.

“We took a step back and said, ‘Wow, we’re operating our fulfillment business out of seven buildings,” says Jay Catlin, president and managing partner at the company of more than 200 employees. “It’s not necessarily ideal to be running your business out of that many different buildings in our space.”

Catlin and his leadership team felt like the company needed to consolidate a bit and have a larger presence in fewer locations.

“It’s a situation where you say, ‘Wow, we’re really growing,” Catlin says. “But just because you find a way to get an order fulfilled and out the door doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fulfilling it in the most efficient or effective way. So after running all this business out of the various facilities, we took a step back and said there is a way to do this better. We need to commit to coming up with an operational infrastructure that’s going to benefit ourselves and our clients.”

It was time to sit down and talk out the best plan of attack to meet this goal of better operational efficiency.

“If it’s not managed properly, meetings like that, you can run into some inefficient dialogue where people are talking over people and so forth,” Catlin says. “We lay out the framework. This is the situation and these are various options we have.”

You’ve got to have some sort of framework of a plan in mind before you begin the discussion. But you probably want to keep it to yourself as the meetings begin.

“Our job at that stage is we don’t want to force our opinions on the senior troops underneath us,” Catlin says. “We want them to give their ideas and advice without it being influenced by our own thoughts. So we hear everything that they have to say and then as we’re helping to direct conversations and so forth, we’re sharing our thoughts on what might be positive or negative with any particular approach.”

In the case of AMS, there wasn’t a lot of debate over what needed to be done. The company needed to commit to longer term leases and make capital expenditures to get those buildings ready to be more permanent facilities. There also needed to be an effort to make sure client relationships were strong.

Your tone in how you approach these discussion meetings will go a long way toward making them effective.

“Whoever might be directing traffic, if that person is one who is combative or emotional in the way they conduct the meetings, it’s just going to breed more of that,” Catlin says.

You need to maintain an even keel and make sure you let people have an opportunity to speak without being interrupted.

“If you get into a situation where you’re not able to finish your thought process, it’s very frustrating and not very effective,” Catlin says. “There is a goal in mind of everybody having a chance to share their thoughts completely and everybody having a chance to respond.”

You also need to make sure that people are doing their jobs and being held accountable for tasks they may be assigned along the way.

“If somebody comes in and we’re supposed to have a meeting about one subject or another and it seems like they are not prepared, we’re not out to embarrass anybody,” Catlin says. “But just in the course of asking questions and looking through what they have to talk about, we’ll just naturally find they are not prepared.”

If it becomes a habit, try meeting with that person after the meeting in private to discuss it.

Catlin says it’s a problem he doesn’t have at AMS, which has allowed the company to address some of its concerns.

“We’ve had a chance to get caught up and move ahead of our current business activity to better prepare to manage our current and future needs,” Catlin says.

How to reach: AMS Fulfillment, (800) 931-4267 or www.amsfulfillment.com

Get it on the record

You may think that because you’ve labeled a meeting as important, that everybody will remember everything that is said. But if you don’t have a formal process to document the business of the meeting, that’s not too likely to happen.

“It can become hearsay afterward,” says Jay Catlin, president and managing partner at AMS Fulfillment. “You’ll hear, ‘That’s not the way I remember it,’ or ‘I don’t recall talking about that.’ If we’re having a meeting about something where we’re going to be taking some action or there’s some change in place, it’s best to have the function leader writing up all the notes and then sending out a confirmation e-mail.”

Catlin takes documentation a step further at AMS, a third-party fulfillment services company with more than 200 employees. Important topics become a spreadsheet file that is maintained and accessible on a shared drive on the company’s computer network.

“So at any time if you’re going about your business and you think, ‘Oh wow, here’s another thing we could talk about, you could just go onto the shared drive and type an additional line item onto there. Here’s an area of concern, here’s a possible solution. Then the next time we have a meeting on the subject, that issue will be up there.”